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Friday, April 14, 2006

The Future of Gay Adult E-commerce

A few years ago, we were all promised that the Internet would change our lives forever, making everything easier and faster. Although that Utopia remains to be seen, the Internet has forever changed the way we get our porn - but it's important to remember that the Web is still in its infancy.

The next decade will bring sweeping advances in adult e-commerce, and the gay sector will be no exception. With the gradual integration of computers and digital televisions, and more people getting high-speed connections, videos-on-demand will become so commonplace that your local video store will seem like an ancient relic. Services like these however, will only be one aspect of gay adult sites, and no one knows for sure which emerging trends will stick and which ones will flop.

So while we're all waiting around for the perfect Internet we've been promised, how do we keep our gay adult sites on the cutting edge? "I think the primary ingredients for success in the gay site market in the days to come will be innovative concepts and themes, quality content, and good customer service," says Quentin Boyer, Director of Public Relations for TopBucks.com and Cyberheat, Inc. (www.topbucks.com). "Reality sites are hot right now, in large part due to the novelty of the site concepts. I think reality sites will continue to sell well as long as people continue to come up with fresh ideas for site themes and provide end users with a compelling product in terms of the quality of the content itself."

So what types of content will sell best? "Video content, especially content that is exclusive to the site in question, is rapidly becoming the primary selling point in this market," says Boyer. "Any marketing technique that emphasizes the unique and/or unusual nature of the site and its content is going to be the strongest technique. Hitting people with big numbers on your site with hyped up text and graphics - like buttons that say "1 Million XXX Pics!" - is dead; focus on your site's quality and the aspects that separate your site from the pack. Anybody can offer a ton of cheap content," Boyer continues, "so focus your appeal on what makes your site different - and if there's nothing that makes your site different, don't be too surprised if it does not succeed."

Innovation will certainly be a key factor in setting your site apart from the ever-growing pack. "Gay surfers may simply be looking for more originality," says Andy Fair, President of DickMag.com and DirtyBoyVideo.com (www.DickMag.com). "They certainly demand original content once they have joined a site! I don't think they are as susceptible to joining the first site they see with a naked body on it - they want to know their membership fee has value. The site needs to give the surfer both what they expect - live feeds, plug-in 'zines, and the like - while also providing original stuff they can't get anywhere else. Look at the really successful gay sites - their domain name is branded, not their affiliate program. They have very distinct personalities and styles, both in the types of models they offer and in the look of their marketing."

It's the entire package that counts here, and branding is the buzzword. The days of generic gay sites are numbered, if not entirely finished. "Right now, a lot of Sponsor Program companies are dumping gay traffic on cookie-cutter pages and can't figure out why it doesn't work," says Fair. "A company boasting '200 new sites a week!' may have been successful with straight sites, but with gay surfers it's different. It amazes me that a lot of webmasters will send their valuable traffic to a big affiliate program without any idea what the gay domain names are. I have actually heard a straight webmaster who did just that, and then turn around and say, 'there's no money in gay'."

We all know that's not true, but amazingly enough there are still webmasters who feel that way, because they just don't understand their target audience. "The truth is, there's no money in generic gay front-door pages," explains Fair. "The money is in sending traffic to sites where surfers join because they like the site's content. The money is in sending traffic to sites where members stay month after month because they get what they expect, what they were promised, and what they can't get anywhere else." This brings us to the next, and perhaps most important, aspect of the future of gay adult e-commerce - customer service.

If you're rolling your eyes right now, you should be worried about your future in this industry. It's true, we've heard it all before, and you may think you've already stepped up in the customer service arena - but surfers are going to be looking for even more individualized treatment in the years to come. "Customer service is crucial," says Boyer, "because customers are very wary of scams and tired of receiving shoddy service. While people appreciate the anonymity of the Net, they still want to be treated with the sort of courtesy and respect they would expect to receive if they were standing right in front of you." If surfers can't even figure out how to contact someone at your company with a question, you can bet they're not going to join (or renew with) your site.

The same goes for shady billing practices and unclear membership terms. "As far as any adult sites go," says Fair; "any tricks and techniques that jerk the surfer around are on the way out. They never worked very well with gay traffic anyway. I'm speaking about cross-sells on join pages, misleading free trial offers and the like. This process has only served to punish and abuse surfers that actually want to be our customers. Even worse are all these sponsor programs promising payouts of $30 or more per free sign-up. Yeah, right. They shave, and everyone knows it. So now, not only are they abusing the customer you sent them, they are also abusing you."

Abuse is certainly not something that adult webmasters will put up with, so why would your customers? "The result of these practices is a marketplace where surfers don't trust making online purchases, webmasters don't trust sponsor programs, and Visa and MasterCard don't trust anything or anyone in the industry. This has made business more expensive and just plain hard for everyone; especially sites actually trying to provide legitimate services. A webmaster wants to work with a company that provides customers a good product, not just trick them into giving out their credit card number."

With so many excellent gay adult Web companies exceeding expectations in the area of service, no one needs to bother with questionable business practices anymore; they will simply take their gay dollars elsewhere. The future of gay e-commerce is not just about the new bells and whistles coming down the pike - in fact, waiting for those new technologies to save the day is like waiting for Godot - an exercise in futility. Focus on innovation and creative content, redouble your customer service efforts, stay aware and flexible in the changing marketplace, and suddenly you will find yourself right there - in the future.

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